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  • Human Rights Reforms in Mexico

    June 10, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Mexican President Felipe Calderón yesterday signed into law 11 articles that will reform the Mexican constitution to increase protections for human rights and bring Mexico into conformity with international human rights agreements. According to reports, the reform is designed to grant greater power to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) by broadening its authority to investigate reports of human rights violations. It will also allow any Mexican to challenge the constitutionality of federal and local laws that might violate the rights of any citizen. The signing ceremony included Juan Silva, president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, president of the Senate and Raúl Plascencia, president of the National Commission on Human Rights.

    United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay lauded Calderón’s decision in a press release saying, “This tangible and positive reform ought to take Mexico towards better and stronger recognition and implementation of the human rights contained in the constitution and international treaties.”

    Reactions by human rights groups have been mixed. Some question whether the Calderón administration, whose security policies have led to an upsurge in drug-related violence in recent years, will permit stronger scrutiny of its actions. Other groups claim that ambiguities in the new law will make enforcement difficult.

    Tags: Human Rights, Mexico

  • Twitter Saves Lives in Mexico

    June 10, 2011

    by Arjan Shahani

    The situation of widespread violence in our border states stemming from drug cartel wars and the federal government’s attempt to combat them is well known.  But I would like to share a story of success that truly symbolizes the strength we can find in social unity when coping with the present state of instability.

    The people of Monterrey (located in the northeastern part of Mexico) used to consider the southern part of Texas both their playground and their place for shopping. Even after NAFTA made most consumer products readily available within Mexico, the custom of taking a weekend trip to the Rio Grande Valley or destinations such as San Antonio, Austin or Corpus Christi remained.

    That is, until people became too afraid to travel on the Mexican highways near the border. The past couple of years have seen a sharp decline in tourists willing to risk their lives to pass through towns like Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Río Bravo, and Matamoros—all overrun by the cartels. In Monterrey, too, people are less willing to be out on the town after hours. They are afraid of being caught in the middle of a fight between rivaling cartels or criminals and authorities.

    However, due to the proliferation of new social media (specifically Twitter) people are now better equipped to cope with their fears. Local anonymous heroes have emerged and created accounts such as @TrackMty, @SPSeguro and @MAGS_SP that are used to warn people about risk zones and specific attacks in real time. Each citizen who follows these users becomes a non-official reporter. And with the widespread popular response to these new accounts, the result is eyes and ears everywhere of people willing to invest a couple of minutes to warn others of danger and lessen the possibilities of innocent people being caught in the crossfire.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Social Media

  • Latin American Soccer Converges on North Carolina

    June 9, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Thousands of fervent fans will converge in Charlotte, North Carolina today for two games of the much anticipated CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer tournament, which gives national teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean an early chance to further their World Cup ambitions. Although Charlotte is not widely known as a Hispanic soccer hub and the city has never hosted such an important tournament, millions of viewers from across the hemisphere will tune in tonight as Costa Rica battles El Salvador, and Cuba takes on the Mexico’s national team.

    Charlotte first attracted the attention of Gold Cup organizers in 2010 when nearly 65,000 fans packed Bank of America Stadium to watch an exhibition match between Mexico and Iceland. Although soccer has struggled to take hold in much of the United States, support for the sport in Charlotte has been buoyed by Latino immigrants. North Carolina is home to an estimated 410,000 Mexicans, and more than 50,000 Cubans, Costa Ricans and Salvadorans, according to the 2010 census.

    Charlotte residents are optimistic that the Gold Cup will boost the local economy. According to the Charlotte Regional Visitor’s Authority, last year’s exhibition brought in $11.6 million, largely from tourists travelling from other states. For today’s games, local Spanish-language radio stations La Voz de Charlotte and La Raza have helped generate hype by giving away free tickets and jerseys and by taking countless calls from soccer enthusiasts.

    Since the Gold Cup’s creation in 1991, Mexico has won the tournament five times and the United States, four. But history doesn’t temper the support of fans for underdogs like Costa Rica, El Salvador and Cuba, who have never won. This year’s champion will earn a place in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, a crucial stop on the long road to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2014.

    Tags: Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, Soccer, World Cup, Futbol, Gold Cup, Charlotte, North Carolina

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    June 8, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Victorious Humala Plans SouthAm Travels

    The latest numbers from Peru’s electoral authority confirm that Ollanta Humala maintains his lead over Keiko Fujimori, who conceded defeat on Monday. Humala won 51.465 percent of the votes against Fujimori’s 48.535 percent, with 98 percent of the ballots counted. Several Latin American leaders congratulated Humala on his victory and invited him to visit their countries. Humala begins a tour of South America next Wednesday that will take him to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, and then the rest of South America. The goal of the trip will be to strengthen bilateral relations with Peru’s regional neighbors and to push agreements aimed at promoting Peru’s development. Humala also says he hopes to visit the United States. 

    Humala gave his first sit-down interview since the election to CNN en Español on June 6, in which he proposed allowing recall elections for the president and legislators, as well as reforming the Peruvian Constitution to allow the state to invest public money. He also said that under his administration military figures will only occupy military positions and there will be “zero tolerance for drugs.” He noted that ex-President Alberto Fujimori, currently serving time for corruption and human rights abuses, will only be transferred to an ordinary jail cell if the courts decide to move him. “We don’t want more divergence. We want unity.” 

    Peru’s Stock Market Rebounds after Monday’s Steep Drop

    The Peruvian stock market continued to recover Wednesday, after ratings agencies said that President-elect Ollanta Humala’s election would not affect the country’s investment-grade status. The Lima General Index plummeted 12.5 percent on Monday—the largest drop since it was created in 1981—and closed early, after conservative Keiko Fujimori conceded defeat to Humala. The Economist Intelligence Unit explores the meaning of the election for Peru’s economy. 

    Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Humala’s electoral victory.

    Ecuador, Venezuela Oppose OPEC Production Increase

    The presidents of Ecuador and Venezuela met this week and released a statement arguing against an increase in oil production by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which both countries are members. Their statement came a day before a June 8 summit in Vienna, where OPEC failed to ratify a proposal by Saudi Arabia and three other Persian Gulf countries to raise output.

    Read More

    Tags: Chavez, Amazon, Honduras, Ecuador, Correa, Santos, Peru elections, Dilma, Coup, Humala, Keiko

  • Chávez, Correa Increase Bilateral Cooperation

    June 8, 2011

    by AQ Online

    In a sign of tightening economic cooperation, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his Ecuadorian counterpart Rafael Correa signed 12 bilateral agreements yesterday in the Ecuadorian resort town of Salinas. Some of the agreements focused on creating joint ventures for housing and the production and sale of cocoa. Others covered the sectors of tourism, health, social security, and technology.

    Furthermore, despite calls among Gulf Arab states of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to escalate daily outputs by its members, both presidents rejected such demands while in Salinas. Correa claimed that OPEC quotas should not increase given current global demand levels, noting that “production will have to increase when demand grows.” Ecuador and Venezuela are OPEC member nations.

    The two leaders also celebrated the victory earlier this week of Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala. They noted that Humala’s victory and yesterday’s bilateral agreements are further signs of regional integration. Chávez added that this integration is intended to turn Latin America into “a zone of peace and democracy.”

    Tags: Venezuela, Ecuador, Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa, Energy security, Ollanta Humala

  • The Future of Andean Trade Preferences

    June 7, 2011

    by Kezia McKeague

    As U.S. trade policy has returned to the headlines in 2011, much of the discussion is focused on  packaging the three pending pacts (Colombia, Panama and South Korea) into one large bill or sequencing the consideration of each individual free-trade agreement (FTA). And more recently talk is centered on the impasse over Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).  But less attention is on other components of the broader trade agenda awaiting congressional action, namely extension of trade preference programs.

    Back in February, Republicans scrapped a House of Representatives vote on extension of the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA) to protest the lack of a firm timetable for moving the Colombia and Panama FTAs.  The result: duty-free treatment expired for Colombian and Ecuadorian imports.  Since then, the Obama administration has pressed for renewal, even as the future of this 20-year-old program remains in doubt.  Could the next renewal of ATPA be its last?

    Initial ATPA participants included Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.  The goal was a noble one: to encourage a shift away from illegal drug production by expanding alternative export sectors and promoting economic growth.  In 2008, Bolivia was suspended from the program when the Bush Administration deemed it incompliant with eligibility criteria related to counter-narcotics cooperation, and in 2010, Peru was dropped from the list of beneficiaries following approval of its FTA with the United States.

    Now, only Colombia and Ecuador are left.  In Colombia’s case, the argument for one more renewal is sound.  Exporters are counting on a retroactive extension that will cover tariff costs since February, and they’ll continue to need the preferences until the FTA enters into force, assuming all goes well in Congress this summer.  The bigger picture is that Colombia is a key U.S. ally that deserves better than the uncertainty created by short-term extensions.  The most recent ATPA renewal, in December 2010, lasted only six weeks. 

    Read More

    Tags: Free Trade Agreement, Colombia, Panama, South Korea

  • Supreme Court Shows Inconsistency in U.S. Immigration Policy

    June 7, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals court on Monday to review a ban against anti-immigrant legislation in Hazelton, PA. Hazelton’s infamous Illegal Immigration Relief Act of 2006 was deemed unconstitutional by Federal Judge James Munley in 2007. Last September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld most clauses of Judge Munley’s injunction, effectively shutting down the law.

    The Supreme Court can order lower courts to reconsider a decision in light of a more recent high court decision. In this case, the higher court ruling to uphold key provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070—namely that employers would lose their business license if they knowingly employed undocumented immigrants—has led to a revision of the Hazelton law with similar penalties for employers. Ironically, the Illegal Immigration Relief Act is considered the impetus for punitive immigration laws in Arizona, Georgia and across the U.S. since 2006.

    But local reaction in Hazleton is mixed. In the wake of this news, one resident commented: “elected officials should bury it [Hazleton's law] , be done with it and get to work on fixing real problems.” The law has also had far-reaching  social and economic consequences. Roughly half of Hazelton’s 10,000 Latinos—including its documented population—reportedly left the city due to its immigration law. The town also saw an estimated 20 percent to 50 percent drop in business in the months following its implementation, even though it was eventually blocked.

    The Supreme Court decision on Hazelton’s law in many ways exemplifies the current tension at the federal and state levels over progressive versus regressive immigration policy. On the one hand, the Supreme Court decided yesterday to allow California to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. But last Thursday, the Alabama Legislature passed an Arizona-style immigration bill with a wide margin, and Georgia’s punitive immigration law goes into effect on July 1. The inconsistency of immigration law presents newfound urgency for, as well as clear challenges to, a comprehensive federal immigration policy.

    Tags: Immigration Policy, Supreme Court, SB 1070, Arizona Immigration, Alabama Immigration, Georgia Immigration, Hazelton, PA

  • Ollanta Humala Leads Keiko Fujimori in Peru Vote, Declares Victory

    June 6, 2011

    by AQ Online

    With 89.2 percent of the ballots counted from yesterday’s presidential runoff election in Peru, first-round winner and Gana Perú candidate Ollanta Humala leads first-round runner-up and Fuerza 2011 candidate Keiko Fujimori by a less than 3 percent margin.

    Shortly after midnight yesterday, Humala declared victory in downtown Lima and delivered a speech to supporters in which he pledged to fulfill his commitments to the Peruvian people. Fujimori has vowed not to concede until Peru’s official electoral body, Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (ONPE), declares a winner. An ONPE interactive map shows Keiko winning in the capital Lima and surrounding areas as well as in northern coastal regions. Humala won by large margins in rural areas and in highland cities. Currently, Humala leads by nearly 375,000 votes out of roughly 14 million ballots counted.         

    If Humala’s lead holds, his victory would signify a rebuke of outgoing President Alan García’s economic policies, which are credited with sustaining high growth levels, but also criticized for doing little to combat poverty and economic inequality. A survey last month revealed that only 22 percent of Peruvians believed that the García model should be replicated by his successor.

    Analysts say Humala’s success at the polls in some of Peru’s closest-ever elections is due to the excitement his campaign generated as opposed to Fujimori’s candidacy which some say “lacked feeling.” Also, Humala largely avoided talking last week about his controversial economic policies, choosing instead to focus on combatting poverty and corruption.

    This morning, the Bolsa de Valores de Lima (Lima Stock Exchange) temporarily suspended operations after its value declined by 8.7 percent mere moments after opening for morning trades.            

    Tags: Peru, Keiko Fujimori, Alan García, Ollanta Humala

  • Funes Announces New Security Plan in El Salvador

    June 6, 2011

    by Julio Rank Wright

    El Salvador President Mauricio Funes started his third year in office last week with a series of policy announcements primarily dealing with citizen security.

    The proposed security policies would first institute compulsory military service for 5,000 at-risk youth between the ages of 14 and 16. These young men and women will be recruited if they reside in high-risk areas prone to gang violence as a deterrent and preventive measure but also as a mechanism for rehabilitation. The caveat is that these youth wouldn’t be trained in weapons use and military tactics. Instead, they would be exposed to military discipline and trained in civil protection measures at times of natural disaster. Recruited men and women would be paid for their service and would later constitute a sort of civil protection reserve—not a bad idea in a country frequently exposed to natural disasters. Other new security measures include the creation of a special committee composed of high-level security cabinet members that would closely follow-up on investigations of serious criminal investigations along with the addition of 1,000 new police officers.

    How effective will these new policies be in a context of what seems like a spiraling plague of crime? This has yet to be seen. However, what’s true is that the compulsory military recruitment initiative is the first and perhaps most radical policy initiative made in the region since the Mano Dura programs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in the late 1990s and 2000s. Boosting the police force may seem like more of the same, but some experts suggest that increased levels of crime are a result of a lack of state presence. The presence of the police force, at the very least, represents state control of currently gang-ridden territories.

    The next obvious question is how soon these measures will be taken. First, Funes has to overcome some legal limitations to the youth military service initiative, and reforms to the Military Career Law must go through the legislative assembly. Some government officials are already criticizing the measure, including the Human Rights Ombudsman, the National Institute for Children and Adolescents and a juvenile judge.

    Read More

    Tags: El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, Crime and Security

  • Humala, Fujimori Close Campaigns at Dueling Thursday Night Rallies

    June 3, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Peru will elect a new President on Sunday in a second-round election pitting Fuerza 2011 candidate Keiko Fujimori against Gana Perú candidate Ollanta Humala. Both candidates yesterday delivered their closing campaign speeches in which Humala focused on the fight against poverty and inequality, while Fujimori stressed pro-growth policies and pledged to honor all of Peru’s free trade agreements. The rallies took place less than 1 kilometer apart in downtown Lima. Fujimori, who has worked hard to win the support of centrist voters, also expressed her concerns about Humala’s formerly close ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez saying, “I would never allow another country to interfere with the affairs of our country."

    Watch the Fujimori Rally


    Watch the Humala Rally

    The latest polls by polling firm Ipsos Apoyo show the candidates nearly neck and neck with Fujimori slightly ahead of Humala 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent.

    For many, it seems, economic concerns will trump fears that a Fujimori administration could jeopardize Peru’s recent progress in protecting human rights and combatting corruption. ''The higher-income groups will vote for Fujimori because of her economic policies…they are worried about corruption and human rights abuses, but in the end they'll vote to protect their wallets,” said Andrea Stiglich, a Latin America specialist at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit.

    Tags: 2011 Peru Elections

  • Democracy Defenders, Activists Tentatively Back Humala

    June 3, 2011

    by Caroline Stauffer

    In the final weeks of a bruising presidential campaign, human rights activists and democracy defenders in Peru have rallied around left-wing nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala—not because they are overly confident in his candidacy, but because they fear a return to the past.

    “From Humala we have doubts, but with Keiko we have proof,” they say, referring to the candidacy of Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, who is in jail on charges of corruption and human rights abuse.

    Keiko has said she will not free her father if she is elected president, and that she suffered as a young woman watching the collapse of his regime—something she does not want her own two daughters to experience.

    While most voters accept that Keiko, 36, is not her father—a fact of which she reminded them daily during the four weeks leading up to the run-off vote—they question why the young Fujimori has included many of her father’s advisors in his campaign, and why she has said he was the best president ever

    Read More

    Tags: Peru, Keiko Fujimori, 2011 Peru Elections, Ollanta Humala

  • Argentina Passes Strict Anti-Tobacco Laws

    June 2, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, yesterday approved nationwide public smoking bans and strict advertising regulations for tobacco companies—by a vote of 181-0 with one abstention. The vote echoes a bill already ratified by the Argentine Senate in August 2010, and a similar law in the Buenos Aires municipality in effect since October 2006.

    Going forward, smoking will be prohibited in enclosed public spaces such as bars, restaurants, theaters, nightclubs, and covered stadiums. Smoking, however, will still be permitted in parks, public squares and open-air stadiums. In addition, tobacco companies must include warning labels on their product packaging. They will also be banned from using deceptive marketing terms for their cigarettes such as “light” and “soft.”

    The new law is expected to yield significant public health benefits. Government statistics indicate that 15 to 20 percent of Argentine pregnant women smoke throughout their pregnancy—one of the highest nationwide rates in the world. Roughly one-third of adults in Argentina smoke tobacco; Argentine government data shows that tobacco-related diseases lead to roughly 40,000 deaths annually.

    Health minister Juan Manzur lauded the breakthrough, saying that “at last Argentina has a national law controlling tobacco, which puts limits on a habit that sadly many citizens have, and which is highly toxic.” Uruguay and Brazil passed similar nationwide bans, which Manzur claims have “shown excellent results.”

    Tags: Argentina, Public Health

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    June 2, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Peru Runoff: Fujimori and Humala in a Tight Race to the Finish

    Peru’s second-round vote is slated for Sunday, but who the winner will be is far from clear. The two candidates—conservative Keiko Fujimori and left-leaning Ollanta Humala—are running neck and neck, while polls show many voters remain undecided. Reuters Factbox summarizes a large portion of the last major polls from last week (Pollsters cannot publish surveys in Peru during the last week before the election). All list Fujimori leading, but, in some cases, her lead is less than 1 percent. An Imasen poll published May 29 shows Humala ahead by 1.3 percent. An Ipsos Apoyo survey measuring voter intention and published by El Comercio on May 29 shows Fujimori ahead by 2 percent. But the incidence of blank votes hit 12 percent while undecided votes hit 8 percent. 

    Access an AS/COA Online election guide to the Peruvian second-round vote, including links to coverage, candidate plans, and Sunday’s presidential debate. 

    IMF Candidates Seek Support from Brazil

    Christine Lagarde arrived in Brazil Sunday to field support for her candidacy for the IMF director position left vacant after Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned over a sexual assault scandal. Mexican Central Bank Director Agustín Carstens followed Lagarde to Brazil on Wednesday, where he pitched his candidacy to Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega. Brazil has yet to throw its support behind either candidate.

    Read an AS/COA Online analysis about Latin America and the call for a non-European IMF director. 

    Where Do Brazilian Taxes Go?

    Though the average Brazilian must spend six months working just to pay taxes, says A Folha de São Paulo, few know where their money goes due to poor transparency laws. Greg Michener blogs in The Christian Science Monitor about a long-delayed proposal to make Brazilian taxation more transparent. 

    Brazil’s Enviro Agency Grants Dam-construction Licenses

    The Brazilian environmental agency (known as Ibama) kicked off June by giving the green light to and issuing licenses for construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. The project, which has drawn criticism and legal action from environmentalists, will be built on a tributary of the Amazon River. 

    Read an AS/COA Online analysis of the legislative debate on reform of Brazil’s Forest Code.

    Read More

    Tags: Brazil, Guatemala, Fujimori, Zelaya, Peru presidential election, Hondruas

  • Does Gender Matter in Peru’s Presidential Race?

    June 1, 2011

    by Sabrina Karim

    For several weeks now, Keiko Fujimori has been ahead in most of the major polls.  If she wins, she will be the first female president in Peru. While Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who ran against Keiko’s father in 1990 has said the choice between Ollanta Humala and Keiko is like choosing between AIDS and cancer, no one has asked what it would mean to have a female president in Peru.  At least some academic literature suggests there are differences between male and female heads of states.

    Would Keiko Fujimori lead differently than a male counterpart?  Would Keiko’s policies better benefit women?

    There is a wide body of literature around women and corruption.  Here, it has been suggested than women possess certain innate qualities that make them less corrupt than men.  Given this assumption, would Keiko be less corrupt than her male counterpart?  Keiko is the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for corruption and human rights abuses.  While many argue that children are not necessarily replicas of their parents, she has surrounded herself with her father’s old advisors and there have been reports that her father is leading her election campaign from prison. Her top campaign advisor is Jaime Yoshiyama, who helped rewrite Peru's constitution after Alberto Fujimori shut down congress in 1992.

    Read More

    Tags: 2011 Peru Elections

  • Funes Completes Two Years as Salvadoran President

    June 1, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Amid a mix of praise and criticism, President Mauricio Funes today marks his second anniversary as the leader of El Salvador, with surveys showing that Salvadorans commend him for his progressive social policies but disapprove of the economy’s slow growth and rampant violence. In a national survey conducted by the Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública at the Universidad Centroamericana from April 29 to May 7, 1,262 Salvadorans rated Funes' job performance at 6.16 on a scale of 1 to 10, down from 6.78 a year ago and 7.6 in August 2009.

    A member of the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación (FMLN)—a leftist guerrilla organization that was converted into a political party in 1992—Funes assumed the presidency in the midst of the global economic recession and following 20 years of consecutive government by the right-wing Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) party. He prioritized maintaining close relations with the United States, where more than 2 million Salvadorans live and work, contributing to the U.S. economy as well as to the Salvadoran economy through remittances. The President also has focused on implementing social policies to mitigate the effects of the recession on the Salvadoran poor. Among these is the provision of free lunches, school supplies, uniforms, and shoes to more than 377 million public school students;  free medical services; and the Plan de Agricultura Familiar to assist small farmers with credit, insurance, technical assistance, and the procurement of seeds and fertilizer.

    While survey results show that Salvadorans recognize the social achievements of the Funes government, they fault the President for failing to improve the economy and effectively combat widespread violence. El Salvador’s economy is projected to grow only 2.5 percent in 2011, although that number is up from 1.4 percent growth in 2010 and a 3.1 percent decline in 2009. Likewise, Funes’ government has succeeded in reducing the extortion rate by 28 percent and bringing down the daily average of homicides, but the latter still stands at 11 per day.

    Today Funes will present the FMLN-led Legislative Assembly with an assessment of his past two years of government. The party has confirmed in a press release that it will continue to implement policies in favor of El Salvador’s most disadvantaged populations.

    Tags: El Salvador, Mauricio Funes

  • Bilateral Cooperation Needed in the Crime Fight But U.S. Homeland Security and DOJ Opt Out

    May 31, 2011

    by Arjan Shahani

    Despite efforts from various U.S. congressmen to convince their peers that Mexican drug cartels should be classified as terrorist organizations operating within the United States, the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS) recently decided against it. In doing so, the U.S. administration missed out on yet another opportunity to show resolve in the fight against binational drug-related crime and violence.

    Mexican President Felipe Calderón continues a full frontal assault against the cartels, recently deploying a larger contingent of soldiers to border towns, but the U.S. government apparently has other priorities and/or larger problems to deal with.

    The Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego writes in its most recent Justice in Mexico report that according to DHS Office of Anti-terrorism Director Grayling Williams, “the mechanisms and laws already in place in the U.S. to deal with drug trafficking are sufficient and the proposed terrorist classification would be unnecessary.”

    Although there is no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism, the key message behind this decision has less to do with defining the term and more to do with how the government agencies are willing to deal with this growing problem. Classifying Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations would set a clear agenda on fighting the drug trade. It would also open up a series of procurement processes for projects combating the issue both within Mexico and the United States.

    Read More

    Tags: Felipe Calderon, U.S. Department of Justice

  • Fujimori, Humala Tied Ahead of Sunday’s Election

    May 31, 2011

    by AQ Online

    With Peru’s presidential runoff only five days away, the last polls that can be legally published before the vote show that the race is neck-and-neck. The Peruvian polling firm Imasen reported on Sunday that Ollanta Humala of Gana Perú holds a slim 1.3 percent lead over his opponent, Keiko Fujimori of the Fuerza 2011 party. Ipsos Apoyo found a similarly tight race with 50.5 percent supporting Fujimori and 49.5 percent prefering Humala. Approximately 20 percent of Peru’s voters are still undecided.

    With polls showing no clear frontrunner, the first and only televised debate on Sunday was seen as opportunity for one candidate to take the lead ahead of the June 5 runoff. However, neither presidential hopeful emerged as a clear winner. Rather than focus on wooing undecided voters, Humala and Fujimori exchanged political jabs.

    Humala recalled the human rights abuses and corruption that plagued Peru under Keiko Fujimori’s father, former President Alberto Fujimori. Keiko Fujimori responded by asserting her political independence and casting doubt on her rival’s far-left policies—including taxing the rich and spending heavily on social programs—that she claimed would endanger Peru's strong economic growth rate and scare off foreign investors.

    Peru’s elite appears as divided as the electorate. Former president Alejandro Toledo is backing Humala, while his ex-prime minister, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is supporting Fujimori.

    Tags: Keiko Fujimori, Peru elections, Humala

  • Time to Talk about Venezuela

    May 27, 2011

    by Liz Harper

    Last week, President Barack Obama delivered a major foreign policy speech about the “Arab Spring” in the Middle East and North Africa.  It was bold, insightful and comprehensive.  He mentioned just about every country in those areas that has made headlines recently: Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen. Just about every country except for one very big and important one: Saudi Arabia.  It turned out to be the elephant in the room, and its conspicuous absence from the speech spoke louder than most any other point.

    Similarly, in recent major speeches about Latin America, President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Valenzuela have also neglected to mention the oil-rich elephant in this hemisphere: Venezuela.

    Why should we be silent on Venezuela? Is it a country—like Saudi Arabia—that we so often treat with kid gloves?

    Late last year, it was officially stated that we know that the Venezuelan state has connections to narcotraffickers and terrorists (among other items). This came thanks to the Senate’s “questions for the record” answered with refreshing candor by then-ambassador nominee to Venezuela Larry Palmer.

    When the truth is already “out there,” why should we still be passive with this South American country?

    Several tell me that the great debate on Venezuela inside our government is still hot between the strategic engagement (or “appeasement”) camp and the proactive camp. But, the numbers in the strategic engagement side seem to be dwindling.  This is good news. Nevertheless, to date, the tensions between these two camps and consequential apparent indecision and confusion about our policy direction continues to cost us internally and in the region. 

    Read More

    Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez

  • Large-Scale Protests Roil Puno, Peru

    May 27, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Thousands of Indigenous protestors have mobilized in the highland city of Puno, Peru, this week over fears that a Canadian-led silver mining operation will contaminate water supplies in the area. The protests, which began on Thursday, have largely cut off the city of 120,000 from the rest of Peru, stranded hundreds of foreign tourists who use the town as a staging point for tours of Lake Titicaca, and shut down a nearby border crossing to Bolivia.

    According to local reports, these latest protests, which come less than 10 days before Peru’s scheduled second-round presidential elections on June 5, have been accompanied by sporadic violence. "They've started to loot public and private institutions, banks and shopping centers," police officer William Anda said on local radio. In response, President Alan Garcia has authorized the army to prevent escalation, but it has thus far not acted to put down the protests by force.

    In a statement, Andrew Swarthout, CEO of the mining firm Bear Creek, which holds the concessions over the areas in dispute, attributed the protests to pre-election political tension, "which have arisen from communities distant from and unaffected by the Santa Ana Project." Hernán Cauna, a protest leader, declared: "We will defend our land until the very end, even though the state is causing pressure by mobilizing their armed forces and police.”

    Tags: Peru, protests, mining

  • Fujimori Widens Lead in Peru Presidential Race

    May 26, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Less than 10 days before Peru’s presidential run-off election, Keiko Fujimori of the Fuerza 2011 ticket is pulling ahead of Gana Perú candidate Ollanta Humala, according to the latest figures by polling firm Datum. Fujimori had the support of 52.9 percent of respondents, compared to 47.1 percent for Humala. This latest poll, which surveyed 1,214 people and was conducted on Sunday, indicates an increase in Fujimori’s lead of about one percentage point from the previous poll, conducted earlier this month.

    Humala was scheduled to travel to Brazil today to meet with President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—after whom Humala has tried to recast his public image. However, Humala decided to cancel the trip at the last minute, according to spokesman Javier Diez Canseco, so that he could focus on consolidating popular support during the final campaign stretch. 

    Humala is a former political mentee of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and appears to be struggling to convince voters that he has abandoned his radical-left past. Although he has vowed to govern as a moderate and has backed down on earlier proposals to increase taxes and take over private pension funds, the Datum poll showed that fully half of Peru’s voters believe Humala might govern as an authoritarian ruler. Only one-third of voters think he will honor the country’s international agreements, including free trade deals.

    Fujimori, daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori, enjoys strong backing by the business community, who believe she will continue the free-market economic reforms begun by her father in the 1990s. Critics feel she is too close to her father politically and over-reliant on his former aides and policy advisors.

    Tags: Keiko Fujimori, 2011 Peru Elections, Ollanta Humala

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    May 25, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    PDVSA Hit with U.S. Sanctions over Iran Ties

    Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro said Tuesday he could not guarantee the supply of oil to the United States after the Obama administration sanctioned Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA over its dealings with Iran's energy sector. Venezuela exports one million barrels of oil per day to the United States, which amounts to 10 percent of U.S. imports. The Chávez administration threatened to cut exports in the past, but did not do so.  

    Colombia’s Senate Passes Victims Law

    The Victims Law, which would provide a system of state reparations and means to recover illegally usurped land to victims of the country’s civil conflict, passed Colombia’s Senate. The House and Senate versions must now be reconciled. La Silla Vacía outlines the main points that require clarification before the Colombian Congress decides to approve the legislation. 

    LatAm, Asia Still Leading the Way on Global Econ Recovery

    The UN’s mid-year update to the World Economic Situation and Prospects Report found that Asia and Latin America continue to aid a global economy on the mend. “The strong recovery continues to be led by the large emerging economies in Asia and Latin America, particularly China, India, and Brazil,” according to the report. However, the survey also warns of potential bumps in the road for these growth economies: “[C]oncerns include persistently rising inflation and emerging domestic asset price bubbles, fuelled by large capital inflows and related upward pressure on their exchange rates.” 

    Latinos Like Mobile

    In February, the Pew Hispanic Center released a report finding that Latinos were less likely than non-Hispanic whites to use the internet, have a home broadband connection, or own a cell phone. A new study by the Hispanic Institute, however, found that English-speaking Hispanics have “emerged as the most avid users of wireless services,” and that they are more likely than non-Hispanics to own a cell phone, send text messages, and use a greater variety of mobile features. 

    Read More

    Tags: Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, IMF, Puerto Rico, PDVSA, Sanctions, Immgiration

  • Brazil to Ease Amazon Deforestation Restrictions

    May 25, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies voted yesterday in favor of a measure easing forest preservation requirements in the Amazon region. The vote comes only a week after Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira announced the creation of a high-level deforestation commission tasked with “suffocating deforestation.” 

    Under the new law, commercial farmers would be allowed to clear previously restricted areas such as hilltops and slopes, along with land only 50 feet away from rivers and streams. It would also make it easier for landholders to meet conservation quotas for their properties and offer amnesty to some who have illegally cleared land in the past.

    Supporters of the amendments argue the changes are necessary in order to boost agricultural production and economic development.  Critics and environmentalists contend that current laws are already too weak and poorly enforced. Production can be increased, they say, by increasing output in areas already cleared for farming.

    The bill will now move to the senate, where it will likely be amended before reaching President Dilma Rousseff. Ms. Rousseff has said she will veto any legislation that includes amnesty for prior deforestation violations.

    Tags: Brazil, Environment, land and water use

  • U.S. Imposes Sanctions on PDVSA over Iran

    May 24, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The United States announced new sanctions on Tuesday against Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA and six other foreign oil and shipping firms that trade with Iran. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said that sanctioned companies “engaged in activities related to the supply of refined petroleum products to Iran” in breach of an existing U.S. ban. PDVSA delivered at least two cargoes of refined petroleum products worth about $50 million to Iran between December 2010 and March 2011.

    Sanctioned companies will not be allowed to access U.S. government contracts, import/export financing and export licenses for sensitive technology, but do not affect the companies’ sale of oil to the U.S. or the activities of its subsidiaries. According to the State Department, the sanctions are aimed at tightening Iran’s gasoline supplies, which will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on the energy sector in the Islamic Republic.

    The other six sanctioned companies include Tanker Pacific of Singapore, Ofer Brothers Group of Israel, Associated Shipbroking of Monaco, Petrochemical Commercial Company International of Jersey and Iran, the Royal Oyster Group of the United Arab Emirates, and Speedy Ship of the United Arab Emirates and Iran.

    The State Department announced a separate set of sanctions, also on Tuesday, directed at 16 companies and individuals in China, Iran, North Korea, and Syria involved in nuclear proliferation activities and development of weapons of mass destruction.

    Tags: Venezuela, petroleum, PDVSA, U.S. Sanctions, Nuclear Proliferation, Islamic Republic, North Korea

  • Zelaya Signs Accord, Will Return to Honduras

    May 23, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya signed an agreement yesterday in Cartagena, Colombia—brokered by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—that allows him to legally return to Honduras for the first time since being overthrown in a June 2009 coup d’état. This accord was conceived at a meeting early last month between Santos, Chávez and current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.

    As part of the deal, Zelaya and his supporters will be allowed to participate in the Honduran political system. Corruption charges against Zelaya were dropped earlier this month. Lobo has pledged not to appeal them, meaning Zelaya can reenter Honduras without fear of prosecution  Honduras is also expected to rejoin the Organization of American States as a full member, after being suspended one week after the coup took place.

    At the Council of the Americas’ annual Washington Conference earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for this pact. Clinton noted that it will help reintegrate Honduras into the international community, calling this step “long overdue.”

    Tags: Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Hugo Chavez, Juan Manuel Santos, Hillary Clinton, Manuel Zelaya, Porfirio Lobo, Organization of American States (OAS)

  • Bipartisan Senate Support on Latin America

    May 20, 2011

    by Eric Farnsworth

    The U.S. Congress is as relevant as the executive branch on many specific issues that affect U.S.-Latin American relations, from trade to immigration.  Yet individual Members of Congress rarely pay sustained attention to policy toward the region as a whole. Instead, Capitol Hill’s focus tends to be narrow, reflecting the domestic sources of foreign policy and the constraints of lobbying interests in the exercise of its oversight responsibilities.

    There are of course exceptions to this congressional trend, and among them, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) stand out. That's why both received the Council of the Americas Chairman’s Award for Leadership in the Americas last week. 

    Senators Menendez and Lugar are both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—Menendez is the Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee and Lugar is the Ranking Minority Member of the full Committee.  It’s not easy to find bipartisan comity these days in Washington, but in fact these awards were richly deserved and widely praised.

    Read More

    Tags: U.S. Congress

  • Colombia’s Massive Floods and the Reasons Behind Them

    May 20, 2011

    by Lorenzo Morales

    Colombia is going through one of the most severe rainy seasons in decades. In twelve months of downpours, more than one million hectares (2.47 million acres) of productive land have been flooded, roads have been erased by mudslides, and big and small cities have been isolated and heavily damaged. So far, 428 people have died and 77 are reported missing, according to official figures. About 2.9 million people (6.4 percent of the total population) have been directly affected in 28 of the country’s 32 departments, according to the National Statistics Department.

    “This is the worst natural tragedy in the history of the country, considering the number of people affected and the extension of the catastrophe,” said President Juan Manuel Santos. “It’s something like when Katrina hit New Orleans a few years ago, but this time we are talking about a whole country.”

    The government estimates that this unprecedented rainy season, caused by the La Niña/El Niño weather phenomenon, could cost some 2.5 percent of the GDP. This is comparable to the destructive power of the country’s three most damaging natural disasters of the last 30 years: the earthquake in Armenia in 2001 (1.86 percent of GDP), the volcano eruption in Armero in 1985 (0.29 percent) and the earthquake in Popayan in 1983 (0.45 percent). But this time it’s all happening in one year.

    Unpredictable forces of nature are in play in Colombia’s current disaster. No one can be blamed for that. But as national and local authorities wash their hands of responsibility, they persist in sponsoring policies and projects that alter (and sometimes destroy) the mechanisms that can both trigger or turn off such forces.

    “Deforestation, the destruction of the páramos (high-mountain wetlands) and humedales (savanna wetlands) has profoundly altered the water cycle in our country and has led to the aggravation of floods, which have created favorable conditions for landslides,” wrote Manuel Rodriguez Becerra, a former environment minister. He is one of the most vocal critics of how the country is bartering its ecological assets for the short-term revenues of environmentally-unfriendly industries such as mining.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, Environment, Juan Manuel Santos

  • Final Referendum Tally Signals Victory for Correa

    May 20, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Almost two weeks after Ecuador held its sixth referendum in three years, the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced last night that nine of 10 referendum questions received majority votes in favor of President Rafael Correa’s proposals.  Official results indicate that votes in favor of the proposals accounted for between 44.96 and 50.46 percent of votes cast, while votes opposed to the questions received between only 39.25 and 42.56 percent of votes. The results omit nullified votes or “blank” votes.

    The final referendum question on whether to outlaw cock and bullfighting, a question to be addressed by individual districts, received approval in 127 of 221 districts. It will be implemented only in those districts where approved.

    The referendum, viewed by many as a vote of confidence in the president himself, was largely expected to be approved. However, growing resentment of the president’s perceived reach into control of the media and his proposal to revamp the judiciary led many to believe that this would not be a landslide victory for Correa. The victory may bolster Correa’s chances for reelection in the next presidential elections, to be held in 2013, although its narrow margin suggests such an outcome may not be as easily achieved as was previously thought. 

    The results of the referendum now await final confirmation from the CNE, and opposition politicians may still contest the results by filing complaints with the electoral authorities.

    Tags: Ecuador, Rafael Correa, Political reform

  • The Power of Dreams

    May 19, 2011

    by John Parisella

    History is a great teacher, and in these days of disaffected voters I take solace in reaching back in the past to see if we can find some inspiration to make our politics more appealing to the voter.  Senator Robert F. Kennedy was fond of this quote: "Some people see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?” Lest we not forget Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s call: ‘’Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.” You might say this was another era and we were dealing with transformational changes such as civil rights. But it was more than that. It was about an era where we could dream of a better world, not for the next election cycle but for the next generations. It was a time where we believed in the power of dreams. It seems voters in democracies are craving for this kind of aspirational and inspirational rhetoric and leadership from their elected representatives.

    Since the days of RFK and MLK, it seems our politics have become more transactional than transformational. We argue about deficits, taxes, debt, stimulus funding, and how to negotiate an amendment to a bill. We sometimes fall into silliness like insisting on certified proof of the birth of a person already duly vetted and elected over two years ago. Voter turnouts in western democracies have consistently declined, though the last presidential election saw an increase. Much of it can be attributed to the candidacy of Barack Obama where young people felt inspired by the power of his words and, yes, his dreams for change in America. That was the lesson of 2008 whether you voted for Obama or not. Dreams matter.

    On May 9, 2011, Premier Charest tried to take a page from history to present a project not for the next election, but for the next generation. It is called “Plan Nord: Building Northern Québec Together.”

    To be fair, not all politics can be about transformational change. We need to be realistic. Not only would it be irresponsible to bankrupt a nation to pay for electorally-popular programs, it would be downright immoral to neglect the impact on future generations. People want jobs, not speeches. But sometimes, it is important that politicians get out of the box and think beyond the next election cycle.

    This is why the recently announced major sustainable project in Northern Québec becomes worthy of attention. Skeptics may caution scrutiny, but it is definitely one that merits interest for its magnitude and its promise to demonstrate that economic development, environmental protection and community building can be on the same page when it comes to vision, policy development and decision-making.

    In the interests of full disclosure, you would expect my endorsement of this project given my current position. This being said, this announcement by Québec’s premier is the culmination of years of study, consultation, debate, and discussion from all the different parties interested in developing a modern, sustainable development project. Environmentalists, aboriginal leaders, builders, investors, voters, and political opponents all have the right to ask: What is in it for us? Why do it? If so, how can we turn it into a win-win proposition—one that benefits the current generation but embodies a wealth of opportunity and hope for the next generation? This is why at the announcement and after years of consultation and study, the Plan Nord had to begin to answer these questions.

    Read More

    Tags: Environment, Quebec

  • A Setback in Colombia’s Rapprochement with Venezuela

    May 19, 2011

    by Andrés Mejía Vergnaud

    President Santos’ policy of rapprochement with Venezuela has suffered a significant and unexpected setback: the resignation of José Fernando Bautista, Colombia’s ambassador to the Bolivarian Republic.

    Bautista submitted his farewell letter anticipating revelations of deals with the infamous Nule Group, whose owners, two brothers and their cousin, remain in prison while they face trial for what will perhaps be the greatest corruption scandal in Colombia’s history.  The case involves multi-million bribes and illegal commissions in public contracting.  The Nule scandal has also resulted in the suspension of Bogotá Mayor Samuel Moreno, the arrest of his brother Iván —a senator— and the imprisonment of a number of second-rank officials.

    At this point, it’s still not clear what kind of job Mr. Bautista did for the Nules. A long-time successful lobbyist, he might have sold his ability to be influential in the highest circles of fovernment. But concerns have arisen that he might have gone beyond this, and that he could have been involved in an alleged plot to discredit Sandra Morelli, the Colombia’s comptroller general. Mr. Bautista claims in his letter that he did nothing but advising what at the time was a successful and respected corporate group. This defense leaves a question open: if this was the case, why did he feel compelled to resign? It’s hard not to suspect there’s something more.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, corruption

  • Brazil to Create Crisis Commission to Study Deforestation

    May 19, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Brazilian Minister for the Environment Izabella Teixeira announced yesterday the creation of a high-level commission responsible for monitoring and addressing the deforestation crisis affecting Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.  The commission will be filled by government specialists as well as by members of the Environmental Ministry and representatives from the states which have registered the highest levels of deforestation.   According to satellite imagery, deforestation of the Amazon has increased from 103 square kilometers (64 square miles) in March-April 2010 to 593 square kilometers (368 square miles) this year—an almost 600 percent  increase in one year.  Minister Teixeira called the figures “alarming” while noting the concern as a main reason for establishing the commission. 

    The increase in deforestation is occurring mostly in Mato Grosso state where nearly 25 percent of Brazil’s soybean harvest is produced.   Experts say that increased demand for soy and cattle are key factors in farmers’ decisions to clear more forests from their lands.  However, activists like Greenpeace’s Maricio Astrini believe the deforestation is due more to a lack of significant legal protections and penalties for land-clearing activities. 

    At issue is the country’s Forest Code, which has detractors and proponents on both sides of the concern.  As the Code currently stands, 80 percent of land in the Amazon region must remain forested while the percentage drops to 20 percent for all other regions.  Proponents argue that the percentage must remain at its current levels or risk further deforestation or the appearance that deforestation will be met with amnesty.  Opponents argue that the current percentage of deforestation limits economic development.   

    Tags: Brazil, Environment, Food and agriculture

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    May 18, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Giuliani Advises Peru’s Fujimori as She Pulls ahead

    Conservative Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori contracted former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani this week as an adviser to help design public security programs. The news came as polls indicated that Fujimori has begun to pull ahead of leftwing nationalist Ollanta Humala for the June 5 runoff election. A Datum released Sunday night found Fujimori leading over nationalist Humala by nearly six percentage points, with 46 percent against Humala’s 40.2. Another pollster, Ipsos Apoyo, released a figure the same day that found Fujimori winning by a smaller margin, with 51.1 percent compared to Humala’s 48.9 percent. 

    Victims Law Reaches Final Debate in Colombian Congress

    A law that would provide state compensation to victims of violence in Colombia’s civil conflict reaches its final debate in Congress today. Before passing the law, legislators will debate whether to legally recognize that Colombia faces an internal conflict with enemy combatants or to classify the FARC guerrilla army as a terrorist group for the purposes of the law. Colombian ex-President and FARC nemesis Álvaro Uribe explains to Foreign Policy why he supports categorizing the guerrillas as terrorists rather than combatants. Investigative website La Silla Vacía charts the positions of key Colombian politicians on the issue. 

    Scandal-tainted Colombian Envoy to Venezuela Resigns

    Eight months into his job, Colombia’s Ambassador to Venezuela José Fernando Bautista stepped down Monday after admitting he had ties to a Colombian construction conglomerate involved in bribing politicians for work contracts. He will be replaced by Ricardo Montanegro, who served as the Colombian business attaché in Caracas.

    Read More

    Tags: Celso Amorim, Venezuela, Haiti, Keiko Fujimori, IMF, Free-trade agreement, Michel Martelly, Colombian Congress

  • Election Results Change Dynamics in Canada’s House of Commons

    May 18, 2011

    by Huguette Young

    The federal election in Canada this month changed the political landscape beyond recognition.

    After two successive minority governments, conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper won his long-sought majority on a low-tax deficit-cutting plan and crime agenda, winning 166 seats out of a total of 308.

    That in itself was quite a feat but the jaw-dropping results on election night provoked a seismic shift in the representation at the House of Commons, Canada’s lower chamber.

    For the first time in history, the New Democratic Party (NDP), a social-democratic left-leaning party, became the official opposition in the House of Commons, replacing the Liberal Party of Canada which scored its worst political performance in history. The NDP grabbed 103 seats, up from 36, beating their own 1988 historic breakthrough of 43 seats. The Liberals dropped to 34 seats from 77, and the Conservatives gained 23 seats, dominating every region except Québec.

    Now, two weeks later, we can reflect on what to make of all this.

    It seems Canada was due for a change.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff

  • Almost Half of Latin American and Caribbean Children in Poverty

    May 18, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Nearly 81 million people under age 18 in Latin America and the Caribbean are affected by moderate to severe deprivation, a new study has found. Pobreza Infantil en América Latina y el Caribe (Child Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean), released yesterday by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), looks at the multiple dimensions of child poverty and proposes public policy recommendations to confront the key causes of such poverty.

    The study—carried out from 2008 to 2009—based its framework on the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted in 1989. It took into account such factors as nutrition, access to drinking water and sanitation services, school attendance, and availability of information and communication media, considering deprivation from any one of these as a contributing factor to poverty and social exclusion. It also measured household incomes and assessed a household’s capacity to provide for children’s basic needs. The report found that child poverty is unevenly distributed across the region, with over two-thirds of the children in Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru living in poverty and less than one-fourth of those in Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay doing so.

    The report’s authors urge governments to invest in children by promoting their rights, ensuring their access to food, water and quality services, and developing strong systems for social protection. ECLAC executive secretary Alicia Bárcena and UNICEF regional director Bernt Aasen also call for governments to integrate social, employment and macroeconomic policy to combat the cycle of poverty.

    Tags: Poverty and inequality, Social exclusion

  • Hundreds March Against Homophobia in Havana

    May 17, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Hundreds of people took to the streets of Havana last weekend to march in support of gay rights in Cuba. The demonstrations, which attracted numerous high-profile participants including well-known poet and playwright Norge Espinosa and Cuban President Raúl Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro, concluded at the Pavilion Cuba in central Havana. The demonstrations were sponsored by Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), which Ms. Castro directs, and were timed to precede the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia.

    The Cuban government’s decision to allow these demonstrations stands in stark contrast to decades of official persecution of Cuban homosexuals under former President Fidel Castro. In a 2010 interview in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the elder Castro admitted his government had treated gays poorly and had not "paid enough attention" to the problem of homophobia on the island. Since that time, the government has largely reversed its position on the issue.

    The fourth Cuban Campaign Against Homophobia runs through May 17 with events in at least 10 of 15 provinces and will culminate in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba later today. Other events are scheduled to take place throughout Latin America—a region that is achieving significant progress in the area of LGBT rights.

    Tags: Cuba, Gay Rights

  • A Gay Rights Revolution in Latin America

    May 17, 2011

    by Omar Encarnación

    This month’s historic decision by the Brazilian Supreme Court to legalize same-sex civil unions continued a string of stunning victories for gays in Latin America.

    In fact, as I point out in “Latin America’s Gay Rights Revolution” (Journal of Democracy, April 2011), since the early 2000s the region has emerged as surprisingly fertile ground for gay rights. Within the last five years alone, Uruguay lifted all legal barriers preventing gay men and women from serving openly in the military, Colombia’s Constitutional Court granted gay couples full rights of insurance, inheritance, immigration and social security, Mexico City legalized gay marriage and gay adoptions, and Argentina became only the eighth country in the world to legalize gay marriage.

    A cocktail of social and political factors accounts for this surge of gay rights in what historically has been one of the most homophobic areas of the globe. This includes the growing secularization of the Latin American public—a trend made possible by the fading of Catholicism. In addition, the region has seen the advent of gay-friendly national governments in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, and municipal governments in São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and Bogotá. These inroads follow the examples set by Latin America’s closely tied European counterparts. In 2005, Spain became the first Catholic-majority nation to legalize gay marriage and Portugal followed soon thereafter. In an act of transnational policy crosspollination, Spain’s marriage bill served as the blueprint for the Argentine one.

    Read More

    Tags: Gay Rights


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